Have you ever had one of those days where you seem to bounce along, buoyed up by some extra bit of energy or enthusiasm? One of those days where you feel a kind of powerful optimism because somewhere deep down you feel everything is possible? I’m having one of those days. And I almost didn’t even notice it. It only came to my attention as I went on my morning bedroom rounds to ‘Rise & Shine’ my little people out of bed. The eldest rather grudgingly asked “What has you so hoppy happy this morning?” The fact that she asked the question required me to think of an answer. I’ve been pondering it all day!
This week I stepped back into a space which I hadn’t been in in a while. Many who know me will know that I’ve been very involved in tourism in The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark region over the last number of years. I’ve worked very closely with the Burren Ecotourism Network in that time and had been very much part of its journey up until about 18 months ago. I’ve just recently taken up a new contract with the group.
It’s only through stepping back in that I’ve realised what I’ve been missing and just how much I’ve missed it. I’ve been meeting with and chatting with various members and sub-groups of the Burren Ecotourism Network, working through ideas and plans for the next one year, 3 years and 5 years. I’ve heard countless wonderful ideas for development over a few days – spanning visitor experiences, networking, referrals marketing, fundraising, commercialisation opportunities. I’ve sat in on one or two serious discussions, heard about some disappointments, listened to potential solutions and shared a few jokes and laughs.
It’s been an enormous injection of energy and optimism to me personally. I’m feeling fired up (or ‘hoppy happy’ as some would put it) by the huge potential of this group of like-minded people with a shared vision for the area I live and work in.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve engaged with several other fledgling Networks across Ireland. I’ve studied research and reports on the benefits of Networks in other countries. So what I’ve been pondering is what is it about a tourism network that can have such impact on me? And on others that I’ve met? Here’s what comes to mind:
Belonging to a Network that is representative of a destination promotes a sense of ownership and shared responsibility. It brings people together with a common mission, usually one that’s bigger than themselves. By defining itself around destination geography, a Network provides a shared point of engagement and responsibility.
Along with ownership comes a sense of belonging, one of the most fundamental of human needs. A network creates a tangible point of belonging which can substantially alleviate that sense of isolation that all of us who manage small businesses understand. Relationship, friendships and camaraderie are a natural by-product of a tourism network.
Coming together to protect, support or promote a destination enhances our sense of pride in our place. Through a network, you get a sense of how others see the place where you work and live, what it is they most value about it, what most captivates their particular visitor type. Through feedback from other members, you begin to understand the value others place on you. Equally, you develop pride in other’s successes and occasionally bask in the shared glow of the achievements of fellow members. This can dramatically boost collective business confidence.
It’s generally accepted that we can achieve more together than we can individually, that a whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Coming together to define a vision and then brainstorming strategies and actions to achieve that vision can unleash a powerful sense of potential. An idea articulated to a group can inspire greater ideas in others that then grow into plans and ambitions that nobody could have formulated on their own. Again, belief and confidence grow and become infectious.
Big ambition leads to big action. With adequate co-ordination, structure and leadership (none of which can be underestimated), a group of people working together can execute plans more quickly and more efficiently than if they are working in isolation. That just makes sense.
Once a culture of collaboration and partnership embeds itself, a culture of sharing knowledge and learnings can also take root. One of the most effective learning that happens within a Network framework is that which comes from sharing experiences, challenges and the solutions that can overcome those challenges. In addition, return on training investment rises as the Network has the ability to collectively implement learnings across the destination.
One large organisation has more visibility and impact than do 20, 40 or 100 smaller sub-organisations. Together, the group becomes a visible and credible voice that can advocate for the region, can respond to changes in the external environment and can engage constructively with state agencies invested in the destination.
Those who visit our destinations experience us a whole, not as a series of individual parts. To them, we’re all part of the same team, the same product. Actually acting like a team, through a Network framework, allows tourism businesses within a destination to better meet the need of their visitors. This is achieved through jointly creating destination experiences, itineraries, festivals, events, websites and in-holiday referrals and recommendations.
My daughter’s sleepy question this morning set off a train of thought I certainly wasn’t expecting today. I’ve concluded that my current surge in energy and enthusiasm comes from my re-engagement with a strong tourism network. Some of the benefits I’ve listed here satisfy our more social needs, some satisfy our business and commercial needs while others speak to our legacy needs. Whatever the need, many networks can attest to the benefit of collaboration and partnership within and between destinations. In fact, it’s hard to see any other alternative if we want to build businesses and destinations that can truly last.